[Editor’s note: NFLPA outside counsel Richard Smith issued a statement on Monday regarding the Saints bounty case. The full text of the statement appears below.]
The Commissioner in this proceeding — and in any disciplinary proceeding — has the obligation to act impartially in the disciplining of players. As the representative of the game of football, this duty of the Commissioner is as compelling as his obligation to protect the game of football. His interest should not be in rubber-stamping any pronouncement of punishment, but rather ensuring that justice is done.
As a servant of the game, the Commissioner’s threefold aim should be to protect the men who play the game, administer discipline in a fair and even manner and protect the image of the game. While he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. The unfair discipline of players for their alleged involvement in a pay-to-injure/bounty program violated the Commissioner’s duty to refrain from resorting to improper methods to defend an unsubstantiated pronouncement.
After four months, the following facts have now been established. The Commissioner, NFL personnel and their outside counsel:
- Ran a sloppy investigation that inexplicably included a decision to not question any of the coaches about the documentary evidence used as a basis for punishment.
- Punished players before they had the ability to confront, challenge or explain a single piece of evidence used against them.
- Launched a public campaign in the media to support the discipline and tarnish the reputations of players before any hearing, effectively destroying any claim that the Commissioner could act as an impartial arbitrator.
- Withheld any and all evidence from the players for nearly four months despite repeated requests for full information and full transparency.
- Falsely characterized witness interviews to draw false conclusions about players’ involvement in a pay-to-injure scheme.
- Retained a former U.S. Attorney to whitewash the investigation by employing her to conduct a media conference call affirming an investigation she was not part of.
- Employed the same former U.S. Attorney to today’s hearing to read the report of an investigation she did not conduct, but prohibited her from answering any questions from the players.
- Refused to make any coaches involved in preparing the supposed documentary evidence available for interviews by the players or at today’s hearing.
- Provided only 200 pages out of their claimed 18,000 pages of materials and refused to provide any materials that might be exculpatory.
- Without explanation, produced at today’s hearing a declaration from a team advisor who said that no bounty program existed.
- Inexplicably relied upon an article and a blog post written after the investigation had concluded and punishment had been issued as ‘evidence’ even though they had supposedly collected thousands of documents proving players participated in a pay-to-injure scheme.
- Refused a three-day adjournment and delay of the appeals hearing so that the players could perform a more comprehensive review of the documents.
In this matter, the conduct of the Commissioner and his representatives has undermined the fundamental process contemplated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Through this abuse, these players have been denied any semblance of due process and fairness.
At a time when some question the safety and integrity of the game, the failure by those charged to act responsibly and fairly have challenged our collective faith and confidence in the league.